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A disease forced ex-Nashville Predators’ Cody Hodgson off the ice; 8 years later, he’s back

A disease forced ex-Nashville Predators' Cody Hodgson off the ice; 8 years later, he's back

MILWAUKEE — Terry Crisp glanced at his caller ID sometime around Christmas, pressed “accept call.”

He had a hard time believing what he was hearing.

The phone number belonged to former Nashville Predators forward Cody Hodgson, who was in search of some advice from the team’s former broadcaster, the man with three Stanley Cup rings.

Hodgson, a 34-year-old who had been forced out of hockey eight years earlier by what turned out to be malignant hypoglycemia, a rare muscle disease, had decided he wanted to play professionally again.

“I said, ‘You want to what?’ ” Crisp said. “He said, ‘I want to get back into pro hockey.’ I said, ‘OK. Nice attitude, I guess.’

“He said, ‘I’ve been playing with some of the big boys and I feel good.’ “

Hodgson, recalling his side of the conversation: “He said, ‘You haven’t played for a while, so you’re probably not going to get any offers right away.’ “

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But then Crisp thought, “Why not?” He called Predators assistant general manager/Admirals GM Scott Nichol, who in turn took a call from Hodgson, who in turn signed a professional tryout contract with the Milwaukee Admirals a little more than two weeks later.

“He said, ‘I just need you to give me a chance,’ ” Nichol said. “It did surprise me, but it’s been a really good story.”

The story began June 28, 2008, in Ottawa, Ontario. Hodgson was the 10th overall pick of the NHL draft by the Vancouver Canucks that day. The story seemed to have ended on Jan. 12, 2016, in Chicago after Hodgson played the final 10 minutes, 28 seconds of his NHL career.

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Exactly 2,166 days later, on Jan. 24, Hodgson took the ice with the Predators’ AHL affiliate Admirals, the team with whom he played his final 14 professional games after the Predators reassigned him in 2016.

Hodgson broke a rib and bruised a lung during the first period.

Not enough to keep him away for long. He’d been gone too long already.

He scored a goal in his return against the Chicago Wolves on Feb. 22. And another two days later. And another a day after that. And two more in the next game.

He has six goals and two assists in 12 games since rejoining the Admirals.

Milwaukee Admirals center Cody Hodgson comes off the ice at practice Tuesday, March 5, 2024, at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“Very brave attempt,” Admirals coach Karl Taylor said of Hodgson’s return. “He’s a high (draft) pick. He played a lot of games in the NHL and signed big contracts.

“He’s really put himself out there.”

But why? But how?

‘At least it wasn’t terminal cancer’

The why is easy: Cody Hodgson loves hockey.

He loves hockey so much that he tried to continue playing all those years ago, even though sometimes he inexplicably struggled to breathe, even though his lungs weren’t working properly. Even though his muscles felt like they were on fire and his heart felt like it was going to give out.

Nobody could figure out why.

The Predators booked him a hotel room and an appointment with some specialists in his hometown of Toronto. His liver was tested for cancer. His lungs and brain, too.

Hodgson waited for months for some of those test results. He worried. He wondered.

It turned out to be “textbook MH,” he said.

No. 75 Hal Gill. Number of players who have worn it: 1. Nashville Predators defenseman Gill (75) moves ahead of Vancouver Canucks center Cody Hodgson (9) at Bridgestone Arena Feb. 21, 2012.

He couldn’t play contact sports. He had to avoid prolonged physical activity. He was told to avoid high-stress environments. Basically the job description of a hockey player.

“People ask me, what did I think when they told me I couldn’t play hockey?” Hodgson said. “I was like, ‘Well, at least it isn’t terminal cancer (or) liver, lung cancer.’ “

‘It might kill me’

The how. That’s a bit more complicated.

After the malignant hypoglycemia was finally diagnosed, hockey quickly slid down the priority ladder.

“The doctors told me I couldn’t play. It might kill me,” Hodgson said, fresh off an early March practice at Panther Arena.

The medications he was taking, some of which made him “loopy,” didn’t combine well with hockey.

He slowly began to mitigate a medication called Dantrolene, a muscle relaxer. That eventually allowed him to reduce the dosage.

Then he started feeling better. Then he went back to those doctors and “asked them to test me for everything that was damaged.”

Then he received a clean bill of health. The comeback was set in motion.

Milwaukee Admirals center Cody Hodgson sits on the bench at practice Tuesday, March 5, 2024, at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Hodgson didn’t hire an agent. Instead, he began cold-calling general managers and people such as Crisp.

“I didn’t want to (BS) anybody,” said Hodgson, who had 64 goals and 78 assists in 328 NHL games spanning six seasons. “You just can’t look back.”

Back to the future, eyes on the present

He has similar feelings about looking ahead.

He stopped short of saying a return to the NHL is the ultimate goal. He feels like he has to live in the now.

And for now, Hodgson is a hockey player again. He’s an ear and an eye for younger players such as his road roommate, Philip Tomasino, who as a kid attended a few of his junior league games.

“Just the experiences he’s gone through in his life, whether it’s with hockey or outside the rink,” Tomasino said. “A lot of guys on our team can lean on him for advice.”

Just as all those kids Hodgson helped coach with the Junior Predators.

“I would have died if I didn’t stop playing,” Hodgson said.

He wouldn’t have forgiven himself if he didn’t at least try to come back.

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This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: How ex-Nashville Predators’ Cody Hodgson back in pro hockey after 8 years

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